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Marks and Spencer comes to the University of Leeds

Marks & Spencer's entire corporate archive is to be transferred to the University of Leeds, in a move that will herald a new era of scholarship about the high street giant and British retailing.

The exceptional collection of more than 60,000 pieces includes clothing, toys, household items, business papers, advertising materials and merchandise and has the potential to be one of the most academically valuable corporate archives in Britain.

The archive will be housed in a purpose-built facility on campus, where it will be available to staff and students for research, teaching, learning and knowledge transfer activity. It will continue to function as an important research and business facility for M&S.

It will also be open to the general public and many items, tracing 125-years of M&S' history, have not been seen before by the public.

The relocation of the archive from London to Leeds is one of the first fruits of a unique partnership between one of Britain's leading universities and one of Britain's leading businesses.  A stunning exhibition of M&S' history also opens to the public at the University today, while the archive is scheduled to open in 2011.

The archive's exceptional breadth, variety and depth and M&S' position as a 'flagship' of the British high street ensures its value for academic study.

University staff and students working in subjects such as business, economics, textiles, arts, fashion, communications, marketing, colour chemistry, food sciences, history and social sciences are expected to use the archive.

Research themes have already been identified, including the relationship between the retailer and producer; fashion communications; and corporate social responsibility. There are unique opportunities for learning and teaching in the School of Design, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, School of History, School of Food Sciences and Leeds University Business School.

A series of lectures and seminars are being planned that will see leading figures from M&S providing an insight on aspects of the running of one of Britain's most famous companies, while M&S is also funding a PhD scholarship. More initiatives are expected to emerge.

University of Leeds Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, said: "The opening of this exhibition and the relocation of the archive to campus are the first fruits of an innovative partnership between one of Britain's leading retailers and one of Britain's leading universities.

"We already have one of the best academic libraries in the country, and the arrival of this tremendous archive will further strengthen it. The collection spans economic, social, artistic and cultural history and will be of interest to staff and students from all parts of the University as well as the public."

The collection will be a dynamic 'living' archive which will continue to grow.  The archive is currently kept in warehousing above an M&S store in London, but its use as a business tool to M&S is limited and it is closed to the public.

The 'Marks in Time' exhibition of some of the collection's most interesting and important items opens to the public in the Centenary Gallery in the University's Parkinson Building today (4th June 2009).

Sir Stuart Rose, M&S Chairman said: "We're delighted to open our exhibition, 'Marks in Time', here today and to announce that we have agreed plans to permanently relocate the archive in its entirety to the University of Leeds. The M&S archive offers a unique glimpse into our cultural heritage and we are very proud that our business began here in Leeds 125 years ago."

The archive will be housed in a purpose-built facility in the western campus which will also contain exhibitions space, conference facilities and a reading room.  The archive has been independently academically assessed according to the economic and social importance of the business and the extent, comprehensiveness and quality of the items.

Its scale is considerable; it include includes men's and women's clothing, jewellery, toys, stationary, books, kitchen and bathroom goods, food packaging, wines and spirits. It also offers an unrivalled insight into the company's commercial activities, as it includes chairmen's and employee papers, head office documents, legal and financial documents and internal and external publications.
The relocation of the archive to Leeds is a coup for the city and reflects Leeds' contribution to the development of M&S, and the region's broader relationship with the textile industry.

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

  1. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/
  2. The archive is the latest addition to the University's rich collection of cultural and artistic assets which includes the Library and Special Collections, Clothworkers' Centenary Concert Hall and a theatre complex, stage@leeds. The Refectory remains a perennial favourite with bands; and the University's ground-breaking partnership with Opera North is attracting plaudits.

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